For those looking to set up a business in France, Sally Stone, founder of the national network of property managers Les Bons Voisins, gives some very helpful advice.
your location carefully. Don’t
isolate yourself. If you do, it will hamper the networking which is an
essential part of any new business. To have peace and quiet you don’t have to
be miles away from neighbours - the pace of life in even a small French town is
tranquil and calm. And it’s great to be able to stroll to the boulangerie for
your morning croissant, or pop into to the local bar for a mid-morning coffee or
an end-of-day aperitif. It’s an ideal place to meet local artisans and spread
the word about your services.
realistic budgets. Your
business will be a new start-up with limited turnover, so expecting it to fund
your lifestyle quickly is unrealistic. If you adapt to the French way of life
sooner rather than later (eating those vegetables and fruits which are in
season and not buying lots of groceries from the ‘foreigners’ aisle in the
local supermarket) that will keep your living costs down. Try to have two years’
living costs safely tucked away before you start your business.
advice ... and not
purely from internet forums, where opinion is often passed off as fact! Be
prepared to start chats with skilled professionals whose knowledge can help you
- remember that busy, successful people don’t have the time to post on forums.
However, a surprising number will reply if you contact them directly with a
polite request for assistance.
yourself: 'Is there a need for my business in France?' Is it a tried and
tested source of revenue? Do potential customers have the budget to buy from me?
Is there a demand in the area where I would like to base myself? And, if there
is, are businesses there already meeting that demand? Be realistic and ruthless
with the answers you provide.
your market and research it. Find
out if there are other people in the area doing the same
thing you want to do. If there are, this need not be bad news! It may
simply mean there is an existing demand, one that you can tap into. Don’t
despair because you are the new kid on the block – get stuck in and remember
that ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Consistent, effective effort always leads
to success. There is no-fast forward button for building a thriving business.
The early networking - the local marketing – you do is like any foundation…
impossible to see after the event but essential as the basis for a strong
structure to stand on! And even strong competition from other local businesses
may not mean there is no room for you – the one who builds the better mousetrap
eventually gets the bulk of the trade.
the French language… or you are handicapping yourself. This part of the project takes effort
but your skill with the French language is a fundamental part of your business
expertise. The better your language skill, the better you’ll do. Sure, you can
get by with basic school French in some businesses but you’ll make more money
if you’re fluent and the language study will pay for itself in time. It will
also allow you to keep up with French news on TV and radio, keeping you current
with affairs that may affect your business or your customers. And when it comes
to learning French, put yourself outside your comfort zone. By all means go to
the local ex-pat language lessons but don’t kid yourself that this is enough.
See those more as networking opportunities than real language learning. Take lessons
from someone who tests your language ability (beginner, intermediate, etc.) before
they take you on – a sure way of knowing that they’re serious teachers who will
adapt their lessons to your needs.
Research how 'new business start-ups' work in France. Become familiar with the paperwork necessary
for business registration and get to know how the French tax system will
classify your type of business. You don’t want to be finding that out a couple
of years down the line! And be aware of the social charges one
is obliged to pay. On-going ‘cotisations’ (which are French social charges a
little like National Insurance contributions in the UK) are virtually 25% of
your turnover. You need to be putting that aside, once you start to earn!
completely reinvent yourself and expect that it will work, especially in a new country with a
different culture, language and methods. Utilise your old skills, albeit it in
a new way.
qualifications may not be recognised in France without further study and examinations.
Unfortunate, but true! Check with your local Chambre des Metiers or Commerce,
and they will be glad to help you. And you do need to ask the branch nearest to
your French home, because rules and regulations are interpreted very locally in
France and what might be right for a friend of yours in Burgundy may not be
accepted near your home in Brittany. Welcome to France, and the power of local
administrations! So, bone up on how to ask for their help in French and prepare
well for the visit. Take your passport and any qualifications you want to check
out, translated into French. Don’t be surprised (or express horror) if you find
they are not acceptable in France, but rather work with the representatives at
the Chambres to find out how you might adapt your new business to fit in with
what you can legally be registered for. Alternatively, discuss with them any
local courses which will adapt your qualification and allow you to practise in
Consider a franchise. More and
more of those people planning to live in France are hoping to start a business
and earn a living here, so competition is increasing. Consider giving yourself
a head-start by taking a franchise from an established business with a good
reputation. This will effectively give you a ‘step-up’ in your chosen sphere
and will often ‘fast track’ things such as business registration, tax
administration, business systems, etc., possibly saving you months of research
and work. That time-saving will allow you to get started immediately, without being
distracted by peripheral but essential parts of any new business: creating a
logo, building a website, organising advertising, establishing systems for
payment, invoicing and correspondence, etc. It’s the business equivalent of
buying a car instead of building one from spare parts. You still have to steer
it and put fuel in but you will start your journey sooner and most certainly
reach your destination much more quickly! The hand-holding and support that a
franchise provides, which you might not have needed in your home country, can often
prove invaluable in a new country with unfamiliar legislation, different
cultural expectations and a new language. And once you are registered for
business as a new franchisee you’ll automatically become part of the French
health system, which alleviates another worry for some new entrepreneurs.
Good luck! France is a wonderful place to
live and work. Any new business can seem daunting but France rewards those who
steer their way through the challenges.
Sally Stone, CEO of Les Bons Voisins
Property Managers (www.lbvfrance.com)
Email Sally direct on firstname.lastname@example.org
We may hold the key to your new life in